CIO East Africa (Nairobi)

Nigeria: Inmarsat Plans Free Flight-Tracking for Airline Safety

Inmarsat is set to offer basic, two-way communications services to track commercial airline flights free of charge in an effort to improve passenger-jet safety following the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370).

According to Nigeria Communication Week, in a matter of months Inmarsat also plans to offer an enhanced, fee-based aircraft-tracking service to airlines, as well as streaming black-box data capabilities aimed at avoiding the high cost of protracted aircraft search and rescue efforts.

In a presentation to a conference on aircraft tracking hosted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal recently, Inmarsat said it could provide the basic free service immediately over its existing L-band satellite network as part of the anticipated adoption of further aviation safety service measures by the world's airlines following the loss of MH370 in March.

"We're looking for them to adopt this offer as a commitment to an evolution for the safety of the air transport industry," Rupert Pearce, chief executive officer of the Company said.

He added that the Company has a very close working relationship with all the major regulators, and "we want to take these proposals and see if they will provide what is necessary to implement this very quickly."

In the near-term, the proposal entails a low-tech fix that would increase the frequency of Inmarsat network transmissions with roughly 80% of the world's commercial long-haul fleet through its Classic aeronautical service, and Swift Broadband which already serves some 5,000 aircraft and which is being installed on new planes at the rate of about 500 per month.

The satellite transmissions or "pings" would check in with planes every 15 minutes, rather than every hour.

In addition, the aircraft's response would be enhanced to include positional GPS data, such as speed, direction and altitude in the process.

Beyond the basic free service, Pearce said Inmarsat is planning to invest "some millions of dollars" of its own money to improve its network and implement enhanced tracking services and a "black-box-in-the-cloud" capability.

The move comes as one of Inmarsat's principal competitors, Iridium, is designing a second-generation constellation of low-Earth-orbiting satellites that it hopes will offer a similar service by 2018.

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